Tips for rookie home cooks

Sam Adler

It’s no longer the very beginning of the school year, which means that many upperclassmen have settled into their quirkily-named off-campus houses and are perhaps coming to terms with a new challenge: finding food and then eating it. While the less ambitious may be content with sucking on dried blocks of ramen and the more social types have already befriended enough potential guest swipes for each day of the week, others might aspire toward something more: actually cooking. With scant professional restaurant experience and my Jewish proclivity towards finding things to complain about in whatever it is I’m supposed to be enjoying, I thought I’d pass on some tips for budding home cooks who aspire to make food that doesn’t suck. And without further ado:

1) Learn to use salt. Too much of it makes your food salt-flavored, but too little makes it taste bland. You can even use this little test: Taste your food. Does it suck and is it bland? If yes, add salt.

2) Brown the shit out of your shit. Seriously. And what do I mean by that? Sear, sizzle and sauté the bejeezus out of your food products; Mario Batali isn’t one of the baddest boys in the business because he steamed every piece of broccolini he ever met. Give your food mad, fast heat over stainless steel, cast iron, wood fire, charcoal grill or what-have-you (not Teflon!) and watch flavor make itself. Charring, brown crust, caramelization and the like all lead to flavorful tidbits.

3) Keep things simple. If you’re cooking for friends, you can impress them by making a simple dish well instead of failing at the most unforgiving, soul-draining recipe. And the same goes for presenting your food. You just cooked up a beautiful piece of salmon? Your friends won’t appreciate it if you attempt to pick out every bone for them, because then it will look like crap. And individual plating just isn’t worth it if you are A) bad at it, and B) are going to put extra time into it. If you made something tasty, throw it on the table, serve it family-style, and let it speak for itself. It will still look good.

4) No, pesto and balsamic vinegar shouldn’t be added to everything. There are some ingredients out there that people just assume positively scream “gourmet.” This is often a lie: you don’t think Big Pesto has an agenda to push? Slathering pesto on your chicken breasts will certainly make them taste like pesto, but there are a lot of other cool things you could do with them. Work to expand your taste and culinary vocabulary, and don’t use certain ingredients as crutches. You’ll become a better cook because of it.